Breastfeeding supplements: do they actually work?

Hands up (virtually) if you’ve ever Googled “low milk supply”. Yep – that’s a lot of hands. Clearly, milk supply is an all-too-common concern for breastfeeding and pumping moms. So, it’s no wonder breastfeeding supplements that claim to boost milk production – from teas and cookies to medications and more – can seem tempting. (Especially when you get a cute targeted ad from a tea company via Facebook during the 3 am feed.)

But do breastfeeding supplements actually work? We quizzed Susie Prout, Registered Midwife, and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, to find out. 

Before we jump in, there’s something important you need to know. 

Although milk supply is a frequent concern for moms, most of us do make plenty of milk to meet our baby’s needs. Seeing a lactation consultant at the first sign of any worry can help reinforce that all is in fact well. But because we know that you might still be curious, here’s the scoop on breastfeeding supplements. 

Herbal supplements

We’re betting the breastfeeding supplements you’ve heard most about are the herbal variety, which come in the form of tea, capsules, or food. Often available from pharmacies, health food stores, and online, these supplements contain ingredients such as fenugreek, blessed thistle, alfalfa, and goat’s rue that for centuries have been claimed to increase milk supply. But while lactation cookies and a cup of tea sound like a well-deserved treat for a busy mama, unfortunately there’s no proof they’re anything more than that. 

“Individuals claim they can help, but it’s all anecdotal,” says Susie. “There haven’t been any large controlled studies, and there’s no scientific evidence.”

What’s more, she adds, trusting the marketing surrounding these products could have serious repercussions. “I worry that by buying lactation cookies or other products, breastfeeding moms may delay seeing a professional.”

Prescription medications

On the more ‘official’ (and less prettily packaged) side of things, there’s a handful of medications (domperidone, metoclopramide, metformin, and sulpiride, if you’re interested) that can be prescribed to help increase milk flow. (Interesting side note: these aren’t actually designed to be breastfeeding supplements – their original purpose was to treat conditions like depression, reflux, and PCOS, but extra milk flow is a side effect. Go figure.) 

Prescription medication can help, says Susie, but only if you also do your bit by frequently emptying your breasts. That’s because boobs work on a supply and demand basis. When your baby sucks, this stimulates nerves in your nipples. This results in the release of two hormones into your bloodstream: prolactin, which activates your milk-making tissues, and oxytocin, triggering your letdown. In theory, the more your baby suckles, the more milk is created. This is why, says Susie, even if you’re taking medication, you need to keep emptying your breasts. “Milk is made when the breast is empty, not full,” she says. “So leaving a breast full of milk can cause your body to stop producing.” 

The moral of the story: if you’re worried about your milk supply, see a lactation consultant

While most moms do produce enough milk for their babies, Susie flags that there are a couple of medical reasons why some women cannot make the milk their little one needs (poorly managed diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure, for example). “Working with a lactation consultant can help you with the reasons you might be having low supply,” she said. 

And if you do need to engage the help of a lactation consultant? Organizations like Lactation Consultants Australia and New Zealand and the United States Lactation Consultant Association have online directories to help you find someone with the appropriate qualifications in your area. 

We hope this helps, mama. Navigating feeding and pumping is stressful enough, let alone questioning your milk supply. The information in this article does not replace medical advice, so if you have concerns, please contact a lactation consultant or your doctor for help. You don’t need to go through this alone. 

You’ll find more helpful tips, high fives, and encouraging pats on the bum on Mumli, your pocket-sized personal assistant for all things motherhood – coming to your home screen soon. Join the waitlist now.

Expert contributor: Susie Prout

Susie is a Registered Midwife and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. Susie lives in Perth with her husband and 3 small children. She runs a private lactation consultancy business as well as an online Breastfeeding Sucess Membership and program to teach new mamas and pregnant ladies how to successfully breastfeed with ease.

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